Exploring: Postcards from a skip & a train ride through three Italian cities.

Short bursts of liveblogging from trips around the world.
This trip took place during: Feb 2018

Oh boy, these STILL feel a little too long. I'm wordy! I'm going to try to be less wordy! Right after our Paris wanderings, Jane and I took the overnight train over to Italy and engaged on a stop through a city a day. I haven't been to Italy since I last lived there fifteen years ago, so it was fascinating to see how much it had changed... and how much it hadn't.

Day 1: Milan

First thing first: I want to tell everyone that if you are to stay in a hostel in Italy, you should absolutely stay at Ostello Bello Grande. It was the cleanest hostel I've ever been to, and the most generous with its food. They had free breakfast. They had free dinner. They had a kitchen full of free food for you to cook for yourself. And if you want to pay for something, they've got the cheapest Aperol Spritzes we came across. Do yourself a favor and come here.

First thing first: I want to tell everyone that if you are to stay in a hostel in Italy, you should absolutely stay at Ostello Bello Grande. It was the cleanest hostel I've ever been to, and the most generous with its food. They had free breakfast. They had free dinner. They had a kitchen full of free food for you to cook for yourself. And if you want to pay for something, they've got the cheapest Aperol Spritzes we came across. Do yourself a favor and come here.

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The Milan Duomo is still one of my favorite cathedrals in the world, though it looks like they've stopped allowing people to bring food & wine up to the top to picnic on the roof. The white marble gothic spires still look insane up close, and the stained glass windows & statues are pretty choice. Look at the musculature on this dude on the left. Jane said it was funny that they would be so anatomically correct with the legs and arms, but so weird about the torso part. She would know - she's about to enter the medical field. IDK, maybe this saint dude was part crustacean.

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We ate lunch in the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuel right next to the Duomo. Did you know this was the first mall in the world? It went over so well that a bunch of shopping locations afterwards decided to name themselves "Galleria"s as well. I instagrammed the Milanese risotto we had, but tbh I was actually more excited about the dish on the right: artichokes covered in parmesan! It's artichoke season right now and I was thrilled I didn't miss out on fresh ones.

Yay! I got to go to a market - the Mercato di via San Marco, which is only open on Mondays and Thursdays! The food options didn't actually seem that plentiful and it turns out even discount cashmere is still too expensive for my frugal-ass tastes, but i did manage to get three perfectly serviceable cotton sweaters and a dress for 45 euros and I've worn them throughout this Euro Trip since.

Yay! I got to go to a market - the Mercato di via San Marco, which is only open on Mondays and Thursdays! The food options didn't actually seem that plentiful and it turns out even discount cashmere is still too expensive for my frugal-ass tastes, but i did manage to get three perfectly serviceable cotton sweaters and a dress for 45 euros and I've worn them throughout this Euro Trip since.

For aperitivo (a tradition that originated in Milan), we went to meet an old grad school friend of mine in the Navigli district. The bar, called MAG, had absolutely delicious and very decently priced drinks (about 8-9 euros per fancy cocktail, which when you come from Shanghai, seems like a steal). Their aperitivo offering was slices of prosciutto, ham cubes, bread sticks and various cheeses to pick at, refilled at request. It was delicious. The only reason I'd complain is that other places offer entire buffets of pasta & salad dishes as aperitivo. But I can't help but feel like it's sacrilege to rag against so much free food to begin with so...

For aperitivo (a tradition that originated in Milan), we went to meet an old grad school friend of mine in the Navigli district. The bar, called MAG, had absolutely delicious and very decently priced drinks (about 8-9 euros per fancy cocktail, which when you come from Shanghai, seems like a steal). Their aperitivo offering was slices of prosciutto, ham cubes, bread sticks and various cheeses to pick at, refilled at request. It was delicious. The only reason I'd complain is that other places offer entire buffets of pasta & salad dishes as aperitivo. But I can't help but feel like it's sacrilege to rag against so much free food to begin with so...

Buona Noche!

Buona Noche!

Day 2: Florence

Okay, this is actually the train station in Milan, but despite going through the train station in Florence twice that day, I forgot to take a picture. It's cool - the train station in Milan is much more grand than Santa Maria Novella, which already looked like it hadn't really changed for a good couple of decades a good couple of decades ago.

Okay, this is actually the train station in Milan, but despite going through the train station in Florence twice that day, I forgot to take a picture. It's cool - the train station in Milan is much more grand than Santa Maria Novella, which already looked like it hadn't really changed for a good couple of decades a good couple of decades ago.

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So back in Freshman year of college, I actually ended up spending the entire year in Florence. My university had this program where it sent some of us international kids to this international location rather than offer them a place in the main New York campus proper. My guess was it was some clever tactic to squeeze more money out of the Freshman class in the way airlines overbook - by Sophomore year, you'd probably get a couple of drop outs and more space anyhow. That's pretty clever though, and considering it meant I spent my first year getting fat off tuscan bread and proper olive oil and endless jugs of Chianti while surrounded by some of the most famous art works in the world, I'll call it a win-win. 

Lemon ravioli in boar meat ragu at the Firenze Mercato Centrale - actually our second Mercato dish of the day (the first one, a Lampredotto beef stomach sandwich, was Instagrammed). We also ended up buying a bunch of truffle stuff, some flavoured olive oils and various types of salt. Food tourism is the best tourism.

Lemon ravioli in boar meat ragu at the Firenze Mercato Centrale - actually our second Mercato dish of the day (the first one, a Lampredotto beef stomach sandwich, was Instagrammed). We also ended up buying a bunch of truffle stuff, some flavoured olive oils and various types of salt. Food tourism is the best tourism.

For some reason, the thing my mom remembers the most about Florence is the Ponte Vecchio. So we made sure to take a picture next to it. I'm not saying I don't remember it, but thanks to Assassin's Creed, I will never not associate it with the place where  Ezio Auditore got his ignoble start  by dueling with a rival family's dickhead of a son. BTW, when I first played ACII, I was like "Wow! This actually looks exactly like how I remember Florence to be!" and this time when I went back to Florence I was like "Wow! This actually looks exactly like how I remembered ACII's Florence to be!" So good job, Ubisoft. You made me want to climb everything I saw.

For some reason, the thing my mom remembers the most about Florence is the Ponte Vecchio. So we made sure to take a picture next to it. I'm not saying I don't remember it, but thanks to Assassin's Creed, I will never not associate it with the place where Ezio Auditore got his ignoble start by dueling with a rival family's dickhead of a son. BTW, when I first played ACII, I was like "Wow! This actually looks exactly like how I remember Florence to be!" and this time when I went back to Florence I was like "Wow! This actually looks exactly like how I remembered ACII's Florence to be!" So good job, Ubisoft. You made me want to climb everything I saw.

We walked up to the Piazzale Michaelangelo to freeze a little while watching the sun set over one of the most fantastic views of the whole city. I've gotta give props to the vendors up there - their wine was incredibly reasonably priced for being the only cart selling wine. And how can you not want to enjoy this view with a little wine?

We walked up to the Piazzale Michaelangelo to freeze a little while watching the sun set over one of the most fantastic views of the whole city. I've gotta give props to the vendors up there - their wine was incredibly reasonably priced for being the only cart selling wine. And how can you not want to enjoy this view with a little wine?

Jane took the time to get out her watercolors and paint until her fingers froze. This would be the only time through our hectic ass trip where she had time to be  artistic. 

Jane took the time to get out her watercolors and paint until her fingers froze. This would be the only time through our hectic ass trip where she had time to be artistic. 

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Having eschewed the crowds of the Ponte Vecchio during the daytime, we crossed a much less people-heavy version of it at night to get back to Santa Maria Novella. I'm glad we saved it for our walk back - the river reflecting the purples of dusk was beautiful.

Day 3: Rome

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Our hotel was in the Monti region of Rome and had a direct view of the Colosseum from its balcony, so that's where we headed in the cold, rainy morning. It took an hour of waiting for a ticket, and then about 15 min of waiting for an audioguide that basically said everything the posters said, and then we froze our little Gladiator butts off as we toured around these glorious ruins. Still into it though.

Also really into taking public transportation. The bus was warmer, and we got a feel for how close everything touristy actually is in this town.

Also really into taking public transportation. The bus was warmer, and we got a feel for how close everything touristy actually is in this town.

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We went to see the Pantheon, and then Piazza Navona, and then we stopped in for a late but very much needed lunch at a restaurant called Saltimobocca. Oh fam, the Cacio e Pepe pasta reminded me what good pasta was, but since I've instagrammed that already, here are the other two also fantastic dishes we had: minestrone (which was fantastically warming considering we were coming in from the damp) and this prosciutto, olive & mushroom pizza.

Also, the place might be magic because when we left it, the sun had miraculously come out. It was like a completely different day.

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Seriously, look at this: Plaza Venezia when we passed it in the morning coming from the Colosseo, and then it as we crossed again a couple of blocks away from it again at around 3pm. The beautiful weather meant we got enough of a second wind to hit up basically ALL THE SIGHTS.

We walked first to and up the Spanish Steps, which was inundated with people who were also freaking out about the sunshine...

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Then to the Trevi Fountain, where we joked at how there were so many tourists there you could've made a second Trevi Fountain out of them.

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And, since the day was still very pretty and we still had the stamina, we decided to cross over to the Vatican side, stopping by the front of Castle Sant'Angelo and catching a quick glimpse at St. Peter's Basilica. They also both looked inundated with people so we admired them from a distance, while I regaled Jane with stories of all the people I had snuck behind and assassinated in both locations in game.

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And then, we lucked upon staircases that took us down to the banks of the river, which was a gloriously people-free walk across the undersides of several bridges. Well - mostly people-free. I guess it's also where the Homeless of Rome rest their tents, but everyone was minding their own business.

And then, we lucked upon staircases that took us down to the banks of the river, which was a gloriously people-free walk across the undersides of several bridges. Well - mostly people-free. I guess it's also where the Homeless of Rome rest their tents, but everyone was minding their own business.

On the way back to our Airbnb, we oohed and ahhed at the way the sunlight reflected off the ruins of Foro Romano. Having had such a mediocre time with the tour through the Colosseum, we'd decided not to bother getting in line to see these puppies. Thank Jupiter for Wikipedia.

On the way back to our Airbnb, we oohed and ahhed at the way the sunlight reflected off the ruins of Foro Romano. Having had such a mediocre time with the tour through the Colosseum, we'd decided not to bother getting in line to see these puppies. Thank Jupiter for Wikipedia.

Since it was our last night in Italy, we shook off how tired we were to at least try a bit of bar hopping. We ended up hitting up two bars that night:  Analemma  (which had a very decent and vegetarian-focused aperitivo buffet) and then  Sacripante Art Gallery . We realized though, when we couldn't bear the thought of going into anywhere with an actual crowd, that we were pretty beat. Real partying will have to wait for a trip when we haven't walked the equivalent of 100km in a week.

Since it was our last night in Italy, we shook off how tired we were to at least try a bit of bar hopping. We ended up hitting up two bars that night: Analemma (which had a very decent and vegetarian-focused aperitivo buffet) and then Sacripante Art Gallery. We realized though, when we couldn't bear the thought of going into anywhere with an actual crowd, that we were pretty beat. Real partying will have to wait for a trip when we haven't walked the equivalent of 100km in a week.

Hello, random birb.

Hello, random birb.

Hello RyanAir. Our next stop was Spain, where we'd be meeting up with our parents.

Hello RyanAir. Our next stop was Spain, where we'd be meeting up with our parents.